Kenyans have today and tomorrow to register as voters ahead of the much-anticipated August General Election if there are no further extensions to this exercise by the courts as has been the case previously. The Independent, Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) conducted a month-long mass voter registration that has largely been underwhelming. The target of enlisting 6.1 million new voters has not been achieved largely due to apathy and logistical challenges.
It can also be argued that the IEBC and the civil society did not conduct adequate civic education ahead of the exercise. This role was inadvertently left to the political class that started off the drive mostly in their perceived strongholds. The effect of this is that the election will be taken as an ethnic census where tribes will be engaged in a do-or-die contest for numbers.
While elections are all about numbers, there is need for comprehensive civic education ahead of such plebiscites. Voters must have a clear understanding that casting a vote for a politician has a direct impact on how they will be governed. Regrettably there is a large group of disillusioned voters who feel that their vote does not count, especially after similar exercises to bring change have been largely unrewarding. They must be reminded that bad leaders are elected by the good people who refuse to vote.
The August elections will have a fundamental difference to previous elections — it will deliver a key verdict on what voters think devolution achieved through the dispersal of resources to the periphery. The devolved governance Kenya has experimented with for the last four years will be up for scrutiny. Governors, senators and Members of the County Assembly will be placed on a weighing scale.
Voters must come out in large numbers and decide once again the direction county governments must take in the distribution of resources at the grassroots. While some governors have been visionary and managed their counties prudently, a good number have been caught up in petty fights and allowed the wanton theft of public resources. The August vote gives Kenyans an opportunity to send home such unproductive county leaders.
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But beyond voting, we must begin to examine the undercurrents of apathy in our elections. In simple terms, elections provide a window with which a nation can gauge how democracy has been nurtured — how much free choice allows the equitable distribution of resources and upholds social justice. We must then worry why a large section of our population refuses to participate. There must some soul-searching to determine why these groups choose to disenfranchise themselves. The way to do this is not through coercion but targeted sharing of information.
There is still a window of opportunity that remains open. There are still two days to enlist as voters. But beyond this, stakeholders should do more to ensure those who have enlisted actually vote on August 8.